After church last Sunday, I asked a woman how her adult children were doing. I had not seen either of them for a while in church. She shared they are both doing well, and then lamented a bit that she had ever given them a "choice" about coming to church when they were young. If she had it to do over again, she would have required them to come with.
I agree with her. The whole idea of giving children a choice is ill conceived. We don't give our children a choice about getting an education. We don't give them a choice about using manners. We don't give them a choice about participating in family activities. Why should they get a choice about something as fundamental as our religion? It communicates that it is less important if it is optional. A person can only make an informed choice about religion if they have thoroughly learned about it and experienced it. If they reach young adulthood, having been steeped in the religious tradition of their parents, and then choose to explore other paths, that is when they are able to make a real choice.
I am in the last chapters of "Leaving Church" a reflective and insightful book by Barbara Brown Taylor about her experience of being called out of pastoral ministry and into a life of teaching. She is a gifted preacher and teacher. This week as I read, she commented upon confirmation in the Episcopal church. Children are usually confirmed around the age of 12 in her tradition. In my United Methodist tradition it is 12-15 on average.
She wrote that unfortunately, many of the youth see confirmation more as a graduation ceremony than a new leg of the journey of faith with a community. Amen. Then, she made an observation that has been on my mind for the past five days. She said it is no wonder that so many folks have an adolescent faith: they leave church when they are adolescents and do not grow any further in their understanding, knowledge, and experience of God.
This made me think about people in crisis. I bet everyone knows at least one person who believes in God, but does nothing intentional to nurture their relationship or tend to their journey. Then, a crisis hits and they find themselves at a dead end. This circle is paved with questions like "how could God let this happen?" and "where was God?/where is God?"
Barbara Brown Taylor's reflection about adolescent faith squared with this. If a person does not grow past a simplistic understanding of God, then this person is not prepared for crisis. And crisis is a part of life. No one is exempt.
It is in a life long relationship, a journey for the long haul, that people of faith are able to move to deeper levels, more complex understandings of God. At the deeper levels, there comes appreciation of daily blessings, daily presence, experience of God's peace and presence especially in times of trial. When crisis comes, faith is something that is able to sustain a person, not trap them in unanswerable questions.